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Signals Sell: Designing a Product Line when Consumers Have Social Image Concerns

Diskussionspapiere extern

Jana Friedrichsen

Berlin: WZB, 2016, 48, 21 S.
(Discussion Paper / Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung ; SP II 2016–202)


One important function of consumption is for consumers to show off their taste, virtue or wealth. While empirical observations suggest that producers take this into account, existing research has concentrated on analyzing the demand side. This paper investigates how a monopolist optimally designs its product line when consumers differ both in their taste for quality and their desire for a positive social image. The monopolist distorts qualities and prices to allocate images to consumers. It generically pools consumers with different tastes because high-taste consumers lend a positive image to the product of their choice and thereby increase the product’s value to others. Often, average quality is lower than in a market without image concerns and there is underprovision as compared to the welfare-maximizing allocation. Although average quality is higher in a competitive market, welfare typically is not.

JEL-Classification: D21;D82;L15
Keywords: image motivation, conspicuous consumption, two-dimensional screening, mechanism design
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